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Going deeper into the hole

I haven't written much about Massachusetts' Big Dig project, but the latest revelations are just too good to share.

But first, a bit of background. The project to rework the highways in and around Boston have been going on for about 20 years. The plan was to tear down the elevated highways and replace them with sunken and buried roadways, along with a few new tunnels under Boston Harbor. The initial cost projection was around 2 billion dollars, making it the among the most expensive public works projects in US history. It's now behind schedule, pushing close to 15 billion dollars, and -- surprise, surprise!! -- having problems.

Now, all along officials and supporters have said there would be problems with the project. Simply put, whenever you try doing something this big for the first time, you're going to run into unforeseen problems. But yesterday's Boston Herald exposed a few of the screwups (print version only, it seems) that just boggle the mind.

1) Several sections of tunnel walls were made of concrete, and it was done badly. So badly, large sections are already crumbling before the project is even finished.

2) In the rush to meet milestones and deadlines, several roads were paved when the temperature was around freezing. As predicted, those sections of pavement are already falling apart.

3) The Ted Williams Tunnel was built in sections, then assembled. One section, somehow, was built EIGHT FEET short.

4) When they went to repair the sections of highway mentioned in #2, they did it so hastily that they paved over manhole covers. Let me repeat that: THEY PAVED OVER MANHOLE COVERS.

There's plenty of blame to be tossed around. The Massachusetts Legislature (absolutely dominated by Democrats for as long as I can remember) has used the Big Dig as a "friends and family full employment program." Their governors (mostly Republican) have looked askance at it, and in one case (Jane Swift) perhaps even helped in the pillaging. It was originally the pet project of House Speaker Tip O'Neill, and Senators Kennedy and Kerry have kept the buckets of money coming to pour down the hole. Congress is now talking about investigations and perhaps even sending a few worthies to jail, but those wheels are turning very, very slowly.

It's huge, it's ugly, it works poorly if at all, it won't go away, and it's costing us more and more money every time we turn around. At what point can we just call it the Ted Kennedy of public works projects and just bury them together? With luck, it'll be before there's another flood in one of the tunnels and someone drowns, completing the Ted Kennedy parallel.

J.


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Comments (13)

It's huge, it's ugly, it... (Below threshold)

It's huge, it's ugly, it works poorly if at all, it won't go away, and it's costing us more and more money every time we turn around.

Well, that's government for you.

Oh -- you're talking about just the Big Dig. Then I take it you mean, "even by government standards" it's huge, ugly, works poorly, etc.

'It was originally the pet ... (Below threshold)
Jack Tanner:

'It was originally the pet project of House Speaker Tip O'Neill,' - actually Joe Moakley

'it works poorly if at all'

Not really true - there are a lot of improvements especially the interchange for 93N, the entrance to Storrow Drive from the N, the removal of the elevated section of 93. Traffic into the city is much better from 93N. The Ted Williams tunnell is a big improvement over the Callahan. I also believe the new Silver Line from the waterfront to the airport is actually part of the Big Dig.

But as far as being a graft infested politico feeding frenzy you're dead on. The other thing it did was delay or prevent a lot of other necessary infrastructure projects that need to be done.

As a Bawstonian I've lived ... (Below threshold)

As a Bawstonian I've lived this nightmare. The old Central Artery was almost better that this mess. At least our sports teams don't suck.

Amen, brother. This has tu... (Below threshold)

Amen, brother. This has turned into an incredible boondoggle and cash-grab for Massachusetts politicians and Bechtel: with no discernable improvement.

What's almost funny about t... (Below threshold)

What's almost funny about this governmental atrocity is that the city, IMHO, is somewhat proud of this project. I'll never forget taking my kids to the Boston Children's Musuem and there is a huge display on the "Big Dig" in all of its glory.

I just shook my head when I saw it.

Big Dig started out as a Du... (Below threshold)
Rod Stanton:

Big Dig started out as a Dukakis boondoogle 20 years ago and following govs. just added to the swindle.

I haven't been to Boston si... (Below threshold)

I haven't been to Boston since they completed the Big Dig, but the entire project isn't nearly as asthetically awful as you say. Putting the whole complex mess underground is a huge improvement over the elevated sections which were decrepit. The new bridge near the Fleet Center is actually quite striking.

However, I would agree about the tremendous cost overruns and problems that were glossed over by the politicos from both sides of the aisle. They were too busy turning the damn thing into a friends and family work relief program to mind the store.

Entire sections of the tunnel will have to be fixed at great cost because they decided to use a slurry wall as both the first and last line of defense against water infiltration. Well, they found pretty quickly that the waterproofing was inadequate and the whole thing leaks like a sieve and the pumps originally installed couldn't keep up. So, when the cold weather hit last year, entire sections turned into ice skating rinks.

Oh, and because the Big Dig cost as much as it did, it siphoned off money that could have been used elsewhere in the US; not just in Mass.

I worked for Bechtel for 8+... (Below threshold)

I worked for Bechtel for 8+ years on the Big Dig as, among other things, a field inspector responsible for the oversight of the general contractors on the project.

I can tell you this. What you read in the papers is the tip of the iceberg. I left the project in 2000 as i was fed up with the utter incompetence festering at every level of management.

I've personally witnessed improper waterproofing techniques being used. My role at the time was limited to notification to the engineer in charge.

I'm working on a post on my blog in which i will spell out everything I witnessed on that project and will touch on topics you're not likely to hear on the local news, or in any congressional hearings.

i can't say when this post will be up. I just don't have the time right now to finish it, but trust me, if you're fed up with this mess NOW, just wait.

What sort of incompetent mo... (Below threshold)
Rob Hackney:

What sort of incompetent moron wants to build somethnig like that and doesn't put cluases in construction contracts to protect themselves from problems? Was 2 bil and turns out to cost 15 bil?!?! Who the fuck is building the thing? People need to be sacked, and whoever the people actually building it is need to pay back the money for their complete INCOMPETENCE!!!

Ghaaa! Fucknig govt and tax dollar waste makes me so ANGRY!!!!

My own little exasperation ... (Below threshold)
-S-:

My own little exasperation experience, along these lines, was returning home after nearly three weeks in a hotel recently and finding that the "new walls" were perfectly constructed but that all the cable outlets were closed off when the walls were rebuilt.

I asked the guys who returned but only after I complained about it and several times, I asked the guys why they would ever rebuild walls but remove outlets when they did and they all just shook their heads, shrugged and said they'd been in a hurry.

Oh. Like that makes it alright, I guess.

They also rebuilt my kitchen but left the dishwasher sorta hanging out on an angle from the cabinetry, sorta tipped over by an inch forward, just rocking there inside/outside the framing. I asked them to "fix" that, they pushed the appliance in the cabinetry and then just hammered aluminum framing against the top, ruining the new cabinetry they'd earlier installed and not at all placing the dishwasher in an ordinary position. I had to ask them to return again, do it well this time and correctly, or else....they did but it's still not done well, just adequately.

Then the rains came, the roof wasn't patched where it was supposed to have been, and new carpeting also just laid in was again flooded, and had to, again, be replaced. That only happened a few days ago, the final guy making the final repairs.

There is much to be said today for quality and lack of quality in craftsmenship. Too many workers rushing around with too little capacity, just basically all laborers, no craftswork. It's a very, very big problem in our culture today, in my experience and almost certainly a lot of the problem in Boston. That and that someone's gotten very rich from Boston's problems.

Sorry to hear about your pr... (Below threshold)
frankr:

Sorry to hear about your problems Suzie, I've always found that it is better to have a contractor you can trust, or, if you know something about construction, have hold points in the construction, where you approve the work in progress. Also make sure the workers are bonded and licenced. I always negotiate for a 20% down payment (for consumables) followed by either 30 - 50% during completion of a major milestone. With a final payment after the work has been completed and checked out by me, or one of those inspectors you can hire for 50.00 to check on the work. These guys typically inspect houses before purchase

That whole area of Boston i... (Below threshold)

That whole area of Boston is frustrating to drive in if you're not a local. I drive through and in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and other cities often and this mess makes New York a dream to navigate.

If you want it to just sink... (Below threshold)
John:

If you want it to just sink into the harbor you should not call it the "Ted Kennedy."

You should call it the Mary Jo Kopechne.




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